For pastors, it’s not that unusual to be given books, articles, printed materials, either from someone you know or anonymously.
Sometimes, it’s literature that the givers assume — from what they know about you — will be of interest to you. For example, for Christmas a couple of years ago, Yiwola and Iyabo gave me Nelson Mandela’s “Conversations with Myself” for Christmas. I was happy to read it.
More often, however, pastors get reading material from people who wish the pastor sounded more like the content of what is printed than the way the pastor actually sounds! On specific subjects, or in certain cadences and styles. My favorite is when a tract is just left for the pastor and certain sentences are highlighted. One can count most especially that the literature is meant to sway you (from your wayward ways or even from the road to hell!) when the literature arrives anonymously or unsolicited through the mail.
I had one of those this week. Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant. The flap inside talked about the need to find ways to speak meaningfully to the people of our contemporary culture for whom such basic building blocks of the Gospel — words like God and Sin and Savior — are incomprehensible… It sounded sort of promising, even for an unsolicited book through the mail.
But then I looked at the author’s name: Ken Ham. “I know that guy!” He is “the founder of Answers in Genesis — US, the highly acclaimed Creation Museum, and the world-renowned Ark Encounter.” I think he’s also behind Washington, D.C.’s new Museum of the Bible.
Ah, yes, Ken Ham, who presents a life-size diorama in the lobby of his Creation Museum of a little blonde girl in a starched white pinafore playing with dinosaurs among the prehistoric ferns. Ken Ham, an architect of one of the many different assaults on science in the culture wars these days; his from the creationist point of view that needs “the biblical story” to trump scientific investigation.
I wonder how I got on the mailing list? And how many books priced at $14.99 retail were sent out? And how many anyone actually read, much less found helpful? And how much was spent on this “literature drop?” Sigh.
You might remember that a friend and I, before I left for sabbatical and Sicily, took a road trip, carting things back from my mother’s house after her death, from St. Louis to Philadelphia. But, it was also a “search for (red state) America” as my friend, who didn’t arrive in the U.S. until he was 17, and has never lived any place but New Jersey. He wanted to see what ‘this whole conservative America was about,’ including sacred shrines of radical right Christianity that turned out to be good places to look for red state America.
Arriving at the Ark Experience and the Creation Museum, in Kentucky and Ohio respectively, I expected “my friend and I” — gay folks — that we’d be the big ideological target, the villains. I was wrong. They haven’t even gotten to us yet; their fight is still with monkeys! Yep, it’s like stepping back in time to find amusement parks created out of William Jennings Bryant’s prosecution in the Scopes Monkey Trial. Or small tracts of land where everyone wishes to believe that science is the myth or fallacy that pales before the revelation of the first few chapters of Genesis.
A few weeks ago, someone I met at a political meeting dismissed me, she said, “because as a pastor you don’t believe in climate change.” Wow, talk about assumptions, even prejudice. (Lord, now I am a Christian worried about how I am discriminated against!) It reminded me of the time when one of my sons, still a teenager, told me at the dinner table that as a pastor, I couldn’t be for a women’s right to choose. (I guess I wasn’t doing such a great job parenting and teaching him the faith!) Anyway, I assured my son that I had been in Albany for Clergy Lobby Day reminding our representatives that there are pro-choice clergy and faith communities, just as I assured this woman recently that I am not a climate science denier. And that I believe in evolution … and psychology. Why I even believe in homosexuality!
It’s funny, when you think about some Christians fearing that science undermines faith here at Old First. Do any of us have trouble reconciling science with our Christianity? I doubt we do. We might go about it different ways. Some need to work it all out and come to an understanding how they fit together. Others probably just let the two rest comfortably side by side. Maybe for some of us, it’s so self-evident, you’ve never even thought of the question.
I told someone recently that maybe we just ought to accept science as one of the windows into the wonder of God. That it differs from biblical explanations is no surprise: they come from different contexts and time periods. No one is particularly surprised that the early church held different understandings than Old First, so why should we be unnerved that the explanations of tribal folks in 5000 B.C. sound different than scientists in 2018?
Also, science is really about what and how; while religion is more about why. As someone told me once: Genesis isn’t meant to be a textbook about how God created the world; rather the creation story in Genesis is a myth that shows us something about God’s and human’s purposes in creation.
It makes me remember Friedrich Dürenmatt’s 1961 play The Physicists (German: Die Physiker), a satiric drama informed by World War II and the many advances in science and nuclear technology that followed. The play asks questions about scientific ethics and humanity’s ability to handle its intellectual responsibilities and the power at its disposal. Church, raw science is just knowledge of the mechanics of things. But it throws us into a whole other minefield: in light of our scientific masteries we need some compass to help one know how to use the incredible power of such knowledge. For us in the church, it’s the values and commitments and lens of our faith that provide the direction we need with such capacity for good and evil at our finger tips.
Come to church where we can give thanks for science, and maybe find some clues about how to live best in our world.
See you in church,